Blogger: Simon Tonkin, Senior Farmland Conservation Officer

All this royal wedding stuff has left me wondering a few things about how great it is to be British, but also two issues in particular that I'm not so happy about. I pondered whilst watching the public royal hysteria, what it must have been like in our countryside during those previous royal weddings.

Isn't it really frustrating and absolutely shameful that we have lost our birds of prey or their populations are now at such a small level. Lets be truthful, one of the biggest threats for our birds of prey today is persecution, which still continues, despite it being illegal, not much to be proud of there.

Thanks to the Royals giving us a day off I was lucky enough to observe a Red Kite floating over Norwich. Red Kites along with Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawks are now returning to their former haunts of decades ago, thanks to conservation efforts, that's something we should be proud of, isn't it?

Unfortunately not everyone welcomes these returning birds, often sighted erroneously as the reason for farmland bird declines the poor old Sparrowhawk suffers a dose of bad image that the royal public relations manager would struggle to turnaround. The weight of scientific evidence shows that birds of prey like sparrowhawks are certainly not to blame for these declines, but farmers can take real positive action in creating habitats on their farms to make a vast difference.

Declining farmland birds are the second thing I'm really upset about; I don't want the countryside devoid of the jangling song of corn buntings or the chipping of tree sparrows. I think we are starting to lose the knowledge of what is acceptable in our countryside in terms of wildlife populations, as our baseline of these species continually shifts through new generations.

I have just returned from guiding a group of sixteen very enthusiastic birdwatchers around the agricultural lands of Extremadura in Spain. It is immediately apparent just how many corn buntings there are, one jangling key crescendo for every 100m of barbed wire! It's also striking just how many raptors there are too and not just species diversity, but also sheer numbers. Makes me wonder just what we have lost that I don't really know about. Oh and by the way, I defy anyone not to be impressed and moved by the 'imperial' nature of a Spanish Imperial Eagle, even if they are a little scary!

One farmer I know rather well is Dick Johnson at Lode Hall, the RSPB helped him directly enter both of the governments Entry Level and Higher Level Schemes to provide habitat for farmland birds and whole host of other farm wildlife. Dick now how has tree sparrows, grey partridge and corn bunting back on the farm in good numbers. He also happens to have a range of birds of prey now visiting the farm, sparrowhawks, kestrels, common buzzard and even a hen harrier back last winter.

Its clear to me something went horribly wrong in the past for farmland birds and other wildlife inhabitants of farmland not just in the UK but throughout Europe. Results of increasingly modernised agriculture, undoubtedly, but alongside this increasing modernisation, we now have the ability, knowledge and opportunity to reverse these continuing delirious negative effects seen on our farm wildlife.

The RSPB are doing just that at Hope Farm, balancing the needs of a commercial farm business with that of the needs of farm wildlife and it is making a huge difference. Hope Farm isn't on its own, farmers like Dick and others in Eastern England are stepping up for nature on their farms providing much needed insect rich habitat, seed sources throughout the winter and safe in-field nesting habitat. Plus they have quite a few raptors, indicating that things are doing rather nicely, as predators are rather obviously, ultimately determined by the success of their prey.

Are you asking what the problem is then? I certainly am! Well here it is.....unfortunately, we need a lot more farmers like Dick stepping up for nature, we need farmers to select the right types of land management options at the right scale through these government schemes that really do make a difference for farm wildlife. How about a few skylark plots, a bit of nectar rich habitat for insects and some wild bird seed mixes for food over the winter?

We now have the answers, farmers like Dick are leading the way, but we need a lot more farmers to step-up for nature, maybe then we can all beam with pride and analyse just what us Brits won back.......

............almost makes you proud to be British doesn't it?

 

Photo Credit: Sparrowhawk by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Anonymous
  • Here is hoping Taffy2 - I too found it refreshing to see the natural world play a part in the ceremony!

    We certainly need high level support of wildlife friendly farming and increased protection and enhancement of all wildlife.

    Of course we also need a major reform of policies including one of the biggest; the Common Agricultural Policy to provide farmers with the correct level of incentives to provide wildlife friendly habitats on their farms. We currently have the lowest available funds for this in Europe - the RSPB and Birdlife partners are working hard to secure a better deal for farm wildlife in Europe - www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup

  • Your mention of the Royal Wedding prompts me to make a point regarding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and wildlife. It seemed that they wanted the occasion to be linked to the natural world- trees brought inside, simple flowers etc. I would really hope that they can both bring some real pressure to bear in the shooting fraternity, with which I think they are closely linked, to end the vendetta against birds of prey. Also to generally support wildlife organisations, but in a way that will attract young people, as previous attempts by some of their relatives seems to have been treated more as a joke at times!